September 25, 2003 01:00 PM

The Dave Matthews Band kept an estimated 100,000 fans cheering under Wednesday night’s perfect autumn skies at a free concert in New York’s Central Park as a fundraiser for music programs in the nation’s largest public school system.

The concert was organized by the city Department of Education’s Office of Strategic Partnerships chief Caroline Kennedy, who told the crowd that she hoped this would be an annual event. The show was sponsored by America Online, which has held other fund-raisers and donated $1 million to New York City schools.

AOL (which, like PEOPLE, is part of Time Warner) dispersed 70,000 free tickets before the concert through its service and on city streets, reports Reuters.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the crowd to “a fantastic night” before the band opened with “Don’t Drink the Water,” one of its hits from 1998.

“So nice to run into you in the park here, the greatest park in the world, and the greatest city in world,” the South African-born Matthews, 36, said to wild applause.

Among the stars showing up for the concert were Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, tennis ace John McEnroe and some members of the cast of “The Sopranos,” as the band played other hits such as “Where are You Going” and “Two Step.”

“I loved it,” the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson (who also showed up), told the New York Post. “I’m a closet American.”

Wednesday’s concert followed in the tradition of such other stars who performed for free in the park as Diana Ross, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand, Luciano Pavarotti and Garth Brooks.

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